More than 200 kidnapped Syrian villagers released

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Gunmen release more than 200 kidnapped rival Syrian villagers

BEIRUT — Gunmen from rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim villages in northern Syria have freed more than 200 people snatched in tit-for-tat kidnappings this month, easing tensions that threatened to touch off sectarian violence, activists said today.

The wave of abductions in a rural part of the Idlib province has highlighted how much the civil war between the regime of President Bashar Assad and the hundreds of rebel groups seeking his ouster has inflamed tensions between Syria’s myriad religious groups.

As the conflict approaches its third year, its sectarian nature is worsening. This month, clashes broke out between Sunni and Shiite villages in the area of Qusair, near the Lebanese border. Islamic extremists who have joined the rebels have destroyed Christian liquor stores, and sometimes refer to their dead adversaries with derogatory names insulting their sects.

The Idlib kidnappings, showed how quickly sectarian tensions can escalate, but also that local communities are still capable of pulling back from the brink.

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